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Legal modernism and the politics of expertise: American law's crisis of knowledge and authority, 1870-1930

William David Rose, University of Massachusetts Amherst


In this dissertation, I explore the relationship between legal theory and legal practice. My focus is on the response of late nineteenth and early twentieth century American jurisprudence to a perceived crisis in American legal doctrine, a crisis that threatened to undermine the legitimacy and authority of the American legal profession. Uncertainty and complexity in the law were dominant characterizations of this historical moment, more generally understood as a time of rapid social and economic growth, producing a sense of chaos and fragmentation. I read formalism and realism (both broadly construed) as forms of legal modernism which provide alternative discourses of professional authority, emerging not necessarily as reactions to one another so much as to the perceived problems of expertise entailed by such historical transformations. My principal aim is to explore and articulate those dimensions of modernist legal thought which serve as the foundation for this new juridical discourse of professional authority, and to suggest some of the possible implications of failing to look at the early tradition of realist jurisprudence from this perspective. In this sense, I seek to lay the foundation for a more general critique and reconstruction of this tradition.

Subject Area

Political science|Law|American history

Recommended Citation

Rose, William David, "Legal modernism and the politics of expertise: American law's crisis of knowledge and authority, 1870-1930" (1999). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9920646.